Comment Editor Kat Smith discusses the pressure to obtain the 'perfect' body image, and how we should focus on more important personal qualitiesWritten by Kat Smith on 21st March 2018
The Women Who Inspire Redbrick
Redbrick's female editors celebrate International Women's Day by writing about the inspirational ladies in their lives.
Thursday 8th March 2018 is a day to celebrate. It is International Women's Day. Now more than ever women are shutting down, standing up and speaking out against gender inequalities. Most recently, campaigns like #MeToo and 'Times Up' have opened the door to conversations about sexual assault in and outside of Hollywood and it is movements like this that show the power of female solidarity.
We have seen women march all across the world for all different reasons. Be it the sexism of Trump’s America or for #FreePeriods, women are making sure our voices are heard. Individually, or together, we stand united in the face of oppression. International Women’s Day epitomises how far we have come, but also how far we have left to go. Women have achieved so much already in these first few months of 2018, yet alone the last year, and whilst some have been noticed for their efforts, there are still so many women being silenced and their efforts going unrecognised on a daily basis. It is important to remember, we do not have to do something out of the ordinary to make a difference. We can make a conscious effort to notice and pick up on sexism in the workplace, work together instead of fighting one another, stop using language that degrades us like ‘bitch’ or ‘slut’ and welcome a debate about feminism. It is 2018 after all.
This year’s International Women’s Day is all about #PressforProgress, a movement that is hoping to inspire and encourage women to speak up about the gender parity and pay gap. This is an issue that has gained a lot of momentum in recent years, with women openly shining a light on their employers who will not pay them equally to male co-workers. It is these women, like BBC Journalist Carrie Gracie who publicly resigned from her position as China Editor due to unequal pay, that lead the way and show women, regardless who you work for, equal pay should never be optional. In 2017 it was reported that on average women practically worked 51 days 'for free' due to the pay gap. A gap which has been reported not to close until 2186. A gap that simply should not exist. Whilst the gap is falling, it is not enough, over 100 years wait for the gap to disappear, is over 100 years too late.
The pay gap remains 'small', but still clearly existent, in younger adults, but begins to widen as we turn 40, and peak between 50-59, as recorded by the Office for National Statistics. This highlights the other aspect of the #PressforProgress movement, helping women achieve their ambitions, climb the career ladder, and call for gender-balanced leadership.
There are many ways to take part in this year’s IWD, from pledging on their website, to getting involved with what’s happening on campus, but whatever you choose, be loud and be proud.
Introduction written by Issy Campbell
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak has been a great source of inspiration during a crossroads in my life. She is a leading postcolonialist and feminist scholar, and I draw heavily on her thought-provoking ideas in my own research. As an aspiring postcolonial academic, I find her hugely inspirational, not only because she operates in such a male-dominated field, but because of her distinct and groundbreaking influence, shaping the field itself and challenging its former conclusions. Women in academia are continuously undermined intellectually, and whilst they are encouraged to ‘speak up’ by male counterparts, little is done to actively advance their position, which is a daunting prospect. Therefore, whilst deciding if this is the path for me and a challenge I wish to face, I find Spivak – both for what she represents intellectually and for female academic status in general – to be a continually valuable source of inspiration and motivation.
Helena Roberts is the most humble, selfless, sweet-natured person I know. She’s also a powerhouse; overcoming various hardships since adolescence (and undoubtedly some I have no idea about) time and again she has demonstrated to me her immense strength and power of will. She helped support her family from a very young age and when she started a family of her own she continued to do the same, always putting myself, my sister, and our dad first. Throughout my childhood I was lucky enough to have her raise me full-time, and without her motivation, encouragement, and endlessly positive outlook on life I sometimes wonder if I’d be where I am today. There are a lot of powerful women in the world, but if I was to name the one that has the most profound impact on me on a daily basis, it would have to be my mum.
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson
Garrett Anderson single-handedly smashed a number of glass ceilings for British women. She was the first woman to qualify as a physician (and practised medicine without having to pretend to be a man to gain the respect of her colleagues). She struggled through sexist rejections from medical schools and further battled against workplace prejudice throughout her career. Nevertheless, Garrett Anderson did not quit. She donated her time to ensuring poor and underprivileged women and children received proper healthcare as well as co-founding the London School of Medicine for Women, ensuring the profession became gender neutral for generations to come. She continued on to become the first British woman elected to a school board, and in 1908 became the first female to be elected Mayor. Of course, she was also an active Suffragist throughout her life and for me, she is a truly badass, feminist hero.
When Mhairi Black ran to be an MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South in 2015, successfully knocking Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander out of the seat, she was just 20 years old. Black was yet to finish her final exams at the University of Glasgow when she gained the title of Member of Parliament! How many people can say they gained a first class degree whilst canvassing, doing press interviews and networking with constituents? Now, as ‘Baby of the House’ in the Commons (she’s the youngest MP since 1880) and as an LGBT MP, Black brings much needed diversity to Westminster. Her maiden speech in the commons in July 2015 received 11 million views online and proved a breath of fresh air for parliament. So, if you hadn’t heard of Mhairi Black before now, watch this space!
Reese Witherspoon is a familiar face in Hollywood. But her most recent endeavours deserve just as much recognition as her on-screen appearances. We all truly recognised Reese’s impact during her inspirational speech at Glamour’s Woman of the Year awards in 2015 where she addressed her recent entrepreneurial accomplishments. Her Production Company ‘Pacific Standard’ and Multimedia Company ‘Hello Sunshine’ strive to counteract the lack of female roles in both acting and producing. With many production companies claiming that films with female protagonists are neither worth producing nor lucrative, making a stand against this alarmingly male-dominated industry is both necessary and important. Reese is a proactive example for our generation for promoting female empowerment, equality of opportunity and ambition. She is an inspiration whose work in telling the worthwhile stories of women via film not only sets an example in Hollywood, but does so for the worldwide workforce as a whole.
JK. Rowling is a woman who has influenced so much of my life. You would have had to live in a cave to have not heard about Harry Potter and his magical world that she created. What many people aren’t aware of, however, is her struggle to even getting published and her philanthropic work. From having to deal with a mother suffering from multiple sclerosis and being estranged from her father, to living as a single parent in poverty, she truly is a role model in perseverance. In addition, her charity work has seen her become one of the few people to lose their billionaire status through the amount of work and donations she has made over the years for charities. On a more personal level, myself and many of my peers might not have been as inspired to read without her beautiful books.
Filmmaker Ava DuVernay is a black woman in a white man’s world. The first African-American woman to win the U.S. Directing Award at the Sundance Film Festival, Ava makes films that break boundaries and speak up against inequality. I first learnt who Ava was in 2016, after the release of her breathtaking documentary 13th, which takes a look at the history of racial inequality in America. Since then I have been inspired by the work she does both off and on screen. With women making up just 11% of the directors working on the top 250 films last year, women like Ava are crucial in pushing change in Hollywood. The first black woman to direct a film with an $100 budget, she has used her success directing films such as Selma to set up a company called Array, which distributes films by women and people of colour. Her mission extends beyond the realm of film; not only is she committed to onscreen equality, but she is committed to changing the attitude of Hollywood as a whole.
Lady Gaga is unapologetically herself: unafraid to take risks with fashion and music, she pours her soul into her creative career to constantly push the boundaries, and is not scared to grow, change, and inevitably shock. ‘Born This Way’ is an iconic, inclusive song that encourages everyone to put down their shame, and not just accept, but love themselves. And she doesn’t just sing about it. From reading fan letters on stage, to pushing through fibromyalgia to perform (and documenting it in Five Foot Two), to creating the Born This Way Foundation, Gaga has created a culture of self love, acceptance, and strength amongst her ‘Little Monsters’ which the world so desperately needs. She is a reminder of what we may survive, an inspiration to never give up on your dreams, and an icon that proves it is (more than) okay to be exactly who we are.
Following Stopes’ own traumatic birth experience, she began research into contraception and how mothers can help keep themselves safe. Ultimately this resulted in the foundation of the first birth control clinic in Britain in 1921. The free clinic was run by midwives and offered mothers birth control advice and dispensed methods of contraception that Stopes had developed. With the clinic as a base she continued research into contraception. What she developed was free for all women unlike previous services which only supported married mothers and often would not provide abortions. She pioneered a new way of thinking about contraception and maternal care, offering women a choice about whether they wanted to have children and how to look after themselves if they did. The clinics, which are still in operation, help women to have children ‘by choice, not chance’, giving women more options about how they want to live their lives.
Few women are as inspiring and empowering as Laverne Cox. Her role on Netflix’s Orange is the New Black voices the struggle of how being trans and a woman of colour intersects, which really opened my eyes to a community I had little understanding of at the time. She is the first openly transgender person to be on the cover of Time magazine and win a Daytime Emmy as an executive producer. In 2014 she received the Stephen F. Kolzak Award from NGO GLAAD for those in the entertainment business working to eliminate homophobia, and in 2016, Cox was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from The New School in NYC for her progressive work in the fight for gender equality. She was also the face of Ivy Park, and if Beyoncé approves, enough said.
Megan Jayne Crabbe
Megan Jayne Crabbe, aka @bodyposipanda, is one of the key members of the body positivity movement on Instagram, and a best-selling author. As well as her own photos, she raises awareness for other body positive accounts from people of all ethnicities and backgrounds. She isn’t just a keyboard warrior, however, and takes part in protests against the modelling industry and diet culture regularly. What I find most inspiring is her frankness about mental health issues; she’s recovered from anorexia, and speaks openly about this on her page, promoting mental health above all else. However, she does not pretend she is happy all of the time, because not letting yourself experience negative emotions is just as unhealthy. She promotes a well-rounded, happy, healthy life that we should all aspire towards.
Cassie De Pecol
Ever dreamt of travelling the world? Well, Cassie De Pecol has… literally. From Bhutan to Russia, Oman to France and Syria to Antarctic, Cassie has travelled to every single sovereign nation, totaling 196. Completing this mammoth challenge in only 18 months, Cassie also holds two Guinness World Records for being the fastest ever person (and female) to visit all sovereign countries, and she did it all on her own at only 27. There are so many reasons why Cassie is an inspiration. Her courage and determination to finish what she started, even when she ran out of money half-way through the trip, forcing her to go home to raise more funds. But also she inspires me for another reason. It is easy to focus on the serious parts of life - careers, relationships, money - but we should never forget the things that make us happy. I want to travel, but it is too easy to find something to put me off. Cassie and her journey remind me that life is about living and not all about the grind, something that can be all too easily lost as you grow up.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
After recently seeing Adiche on a YouTube recommended TedTalk I immediately impulse bought her book We Should All Be Feminists. This little volume is packed full of strong ideas as to why men and women should be socialised equally in society and Adiche calls for equality in all areas. I managed to read this short book in just two hours as Adiche had me hooked and inspired from the first word. I believe Adiche is one of the most inspirational writers I have come across. Her own personal story of being a Nigerian woman who has overcome racism in society makes me feel truly proud and inspired to be a fellow woman.
There are countless praises to sing about, almost objectively, the most stellar First Lady the US has ever had. In a nation with a notable absence of female leaders in its history, her strength of character, compassion and charisma was, and is, empowering. She’s a champion for physical and mental health, feminism, the impoverished, education and much more. Obama launched the ‘Let’s Move!’ initiative in the US to aim at ending the epidemic of childhood obesity, has advocated on behalf of military families, volunteered in homeless shelters and soup kitchens, and inspired young Americans to continue their education past high school. The list could go on and her influence has surpassed her husband’s time in office. Michelle’s inspiration and strength is somewhat a remedy to the lack of women Presidents in the Oval Office, though I’m hoping to see her there soon.
Shakira is the true queen of Latin pop, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Not only is she a multi-award winning singer-songwriter, producer and dancer, the Columbian superstar is also an activist for the improvement of access to education for poor children around the world through her Pies Descalzos Foundation. She has worked as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for a number of years, and was appointed to Barack Obama’s President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics in 2011, increasing opportunities for Hispanic Americans in educational programmes. She has sold billions of records around the world in both Spanish and English, and continues to represent strong-willed, independent women across the globe. Her music is perfect for any occasion, whenever, wherever you are, and most importantly, her hips most certainly do not lie. Shakira embodies everything I aspire to as a young woman, and never fails to deliver on all fronts, musically and philanthropically.
Kris Jenner may not be the first woman to come to mind when we think of inspirational female figures in the world, she may not even be the hundredth, but why is that? Her Kardashian clan are arguably the most influential family in the world; they’re constantly creating new fashion trends, phrases, makeup looks and ‘break the internet’ regularly. Whether it’s with a famous booty shot or well-timed baby announcement (seriously, whose idea do you think that was?) the Kardashians have got this social-media obsessed era wrapped around a well-manicured pinky. Like any mother, Kris has had to deal with her children’s rebellious behaviour; from viral sex tapes to crazy exes desperate for a slice of that Kardashian fortune, she has gracefully manoeuvred them through it all. Kris Jenner; the ‘Momager’, millionaire, mother and inspirational, successful business woman we could all learn a thing or two from.
Emma Watson is truly a feminist inspiration. As part of her role as UN Women Goodwill Ambassador she launched the HeForShe campaign to unite men and women in the fight for gender equality. Emma believes that the only way to tackle inequality is to get everyone on board. She aims to challenge typical male stereotypes, arguing that ‘If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled’. She is also a major inspiration for self-love, stating ‘I don’t want other people to decide who I am. I want to decide that for myself’. Hermione Granger taught me to be a warrior, but Emma Watson taught me to be myself. She’s even got her own ethical clothing line and is a certified yoga and meditation teacher! She’s amazing!
Billie Jean King
When challenged to a ‘Battle of the Sexes’ by male chauvinist Bobby Riggs at the height of her competitive career, six-times Women’s Tennis Champion Billie Jean King defied all misogynists in her audience of over 90 million people and won. She won not for the money or to simply prove a man wrong. King won for equality, for all women before her and all women to come. Encouraged by her victory against Riggs, Billie Jean upped her campaign for equality and in the following year she started the Women’s Sports Foundation. After her sexuality was publicly outed, she continued to work tirelessly on behalf of women and the LGBTQ community despite losing all her endorsement deals. In 2009, President Obama awarded King with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. For all women that have ever been told ‘you can’t’, she did it, and you will.
Carrie Fisher is a woman who is held dear in a lot of people’s hearts. Infamously known as Princess Leia from Star Wars, she redefined what it meant to be a woman in film. Not only was she representative of this strong woman that defied the ‘damsel in distress’ stereotype, Fisher was awe inspiring in herself. Leading by example, she taught women to be unapologetic for who they are. She always spoke frankly, regardless of what people might think. She was brave enough to stand against sexual assaulting Hollywood producers ten years before anyone else, even sending one a cow’s tongue. Most importantly, for me, she was totally open about her struggles with mental illness, preaching it as something to be proud of surviving, not ashamed of having. Carrie Fisher inspires me, as she should many women, to be outspoken, strong willed and proud
Often referred to as the ‘First Lady of Civil Rights’, Rosa Parks is best known as the woman who refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery bus during the turbulent US civil rights movement during the twentieth century. While Parks suffered hugely as a result, her refusal to be wrongfully mistreated sparked what became known as the ‘Montgomery Bus Boycott’. Led by Martin Luther King Jr., hundreds of African Americans avoided using public buses for over a year, but more remarkable than this was the US Supreme Court ruling declaring bus segregation ‘unconstitutional’. Though this by no means resulted in total equality, Parks showed how powerful the smallest of acts can be, and her bravery, determination and resilience have been rightfully praised ever since, through numerous highly acclaimed awards and being named as one of the most influential people of the twentieth century by TIME magazine. Unfortunately, racial prejudice still plagues our society today, but we should be looking to figures like Rosa Parks for inspiration to continue the fight and not let racism slip under the radar.
As a Culture Editor, perhaps there’s no surprise that the woman who inspires me the most is, theatre director and artistic director of the Royal Court Theatre, Vicky Featherstone. I admire Featherstone so greatly because she sees theatre as having the potential to encourage social change and tell the stories of those who would otherwise go unheard. Not only does she create incredible stage productions (most recently, Gundog) but last year she was voted the most influential person in British theatre on the Stage 100 Power List, following her response to the Harvey Weinstein scandal. In October 2017, Featherstone held an event called ‘No Grey Area’ to ‘confront the abuses of power that have been occurring in the theatre industry for years’. In just 10 days, Featherstone organised a safe environment for people to share their experiences. She is brave, uses her position of authority to help others, and uses theatre to respond to the pressing issues of the present day.
Despite being only 18 years old, Amika George started the #FreePeriods campaign, a movement that proved the power of social media by organising peaceful protests in London on 20th December 2017. Amika started the campaign for #FreePeriods after reading that some girls in the UK struggle to afford basic sanitary products, resorting to ripping up old t-shirts or using toilet roll from public bathrooms. She started a petition and started to spread the word. Amika told Vogue that she 'felt sickened that this was happening in a wealthy country like ours, and worse still, that no action had been taken'. Personally, I love the fact that she is also fighting the taboo around periods, saying that 'the #FreePeriods campaign is also about breaking down the ridiculously outdated stigma around menstruation - it has to go - we need to embrace our periods and be proud to bleed. We need to celebrate and not hide our periods!'
Believing ‘activism is my rent for living on the planet’, Alice Walker dedicated her life to civil rights and feminist movements, protesting against, to name a few, the South African apartheid, the Iraq war and female genital mutilation. She focused her work primarily on working for rights for African American women, successfully coining the term ‘womanism’ in 1983 to mean ‘black feminism’, and creating a sense of unity for P.O.C feminists. Walker is most famous however, for her writing, directly connecting political activism with the process of writing and publishing activist novels including Meridian and The Colour Purple. Sacrificing her own academic aspirations of studying in Paris, she dedicated herself to teaching poetry in Southern universities, allowing those she taught to utilise art to tackle injustice as she did. Alice Walker is an easy choice for an inspirational woman, as her desire for connection between activism and art has made huge progress towards equality and creative freedom.
Fans of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit will be familiar with the now iconic Olivia Benson, the no-nonsense cop played by Mariska Hargitay, who has been chasing justice on television screens for twenty years. Benson’s complex character coupled with a desire to help every survivor makes for an inspirational figure, but Hargitay is just as inspiring off-screen. Hargitay trained as a rape crisis advocate to prepare for the role, and is also the founder and president of the Joyful Heart Foundation, established to provide support to survivors of sexual assault and violence, helping over 5000 women and children. Hargitay continues to portray Benson, and recently campaigned to raise awareness around the statistics of untested rape kits in the USA, as well as petitioning for the authorisation of the Violence against Women Act. Hargitay, and the character she portrays, have and continue to help survivors and inspire change today.
The Women of Iceland
Maybe it's the Viking blood, maybe it's the hot springs, but there is something truly fiery about the women of Iceland, who have been fighting for equality since the 70s and have not looked back since. In 1975, 90% of Icelandic women went on strike for a day, stopping all paid work, cleaning and childcare to demonstrate their importance in society and promote equality. Naturally, the whole country ground to a shuddering halt. By 1980 Iceland had elected Vigdis Finnbogadottir as President, who became the first female democratically elected head of state. Then, when the 2008 economic crash destroyed Iceland's banking sector, women spearheaded reforms in the financial system to 'feminise' the system and prevent the dangerous testosterone-fuelled risk-taking that had caused the collapse. Within three years Iceland's economy was back on track, and for the past four years Iceland has been ranked the most equal place in the world for women by the WEF. Hot stuff indeed.
Hayley Williams has been part of my life from almost as long as she’s been part of Paramore. Beginning her career at 14, and growing exponentially since, she has spoken her mind through her lyrics and actions, inspiring others to do the same. Throughout her albums I, along with many others, have found ourselves within the tracks, as her voice soothes souls and encourages us to speak out, as she herself goes through her own journey through losing members and redefining herself and the band. Vocally expressing her choice not to drink, smoke or take vocational drugs, she’s a role model to others that success does not mean that you need to conform to the norm. She’s been the soundtrack of my life, with Paramore’s latest album After Laughter, which touches upon exhaustion, depression and anxiety, cementing Hayley Williams as a an inspirational artist in my eyes.
Probably an unpopular choice for this list, Courtney Love nevertheless embodied for my teenage self the idea of female power and defying inhibition and pressure to conform. It pains me that she is so often only remembered for her association, and not exactly a positive one at that, with Kurt Cobain, when her talent and unbelievably relentless hard work deserves its own limelight. Fresh out of a childhood so troubled that honestly, a decades-long heroin addiction seems like an understated reaction, Love quickly became iconic in her fashion, attitude with the press and other celebrities, song-writing and musical skill, front-woman charisma, and frankly underrated acting ability. Despite her flaws, Love’s talents don’t deserve the shunning they have seen, and I would encourage anyone this International Women’s Day to take the time to listen to Live Through This, not only an outstanding album musically, but with the relevant themes of female body image, pregnancy and motherhood, and career success as a female running throughout.
Since making it to the 2013 Great British Bake Off final at the age of just 21, whilst simultaneously studying for a philosophy degree, Ruby Tandoh has never stopped being an inspiration to me. From dealing maturely with sexist Bake Off backlash rumours to taking a stand against the body shaming, classist ‘clean eating’ obsession that has gripped the western world over the past few years, Ruby has always stood up for herself and what she believes in with such grace. Not only is she a fantastic chef but she encourages a healthy relationship with food, which is so important in the Instagram age of gold-dust supplements and unnecessary free-from wankery. For me, the most important parts of her work are her book Eat Up, a bible of food and body positivity, and her fantastic Twitter account (@rubytandoh) which provides daily doses of 280 character sass and love. More power to Ruby, the world needs more like her.